A different cherry blossom ending

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A different cherry blossom ending

The author is the culture editor at the Korea JoongAng Daily.



Japanese king cherry trees, which were planted during the Japanese occupation period and are often seen throughout Korea, are said to originate from Jeju Island. The theory has conveniently lifted the nationalistic guilt that Koreans had while enjoying cherry blossoms.
Whenever controversies arise as cherry blossom festivals are held in the spring, the Jeju origin is frequently used as a nationalistic shield.

However, the defense is quite strange as the origin of the flowers and the origin of the culture of enjoying the flowers are separate matters. Even if the origin of the cherry blossoms around the world is Jeju Island, it is hard to find an example of Korean ancestors appreciating cherry blossoms in poems and paintings. Instead, our Korean ancestors loved plum blossoms, azaleas and peach blossom far more, praising them in poems and paintings, making drinks with plum flowers and making pancakes with azalea flowers for picnics. It was Japan that came up with nighttime cherry blossom viewings and cookies with cherry blossom. There are countless Haiku poems and Ukiyo-e on cherry blossoms. In short, no matter the origin of the tree, the custom of enjoying cherry blossoms in Korea today is not a Korean tradition but comes from Japan during the occupation period.

Moreover, Korean researchers have found that the theory of king cherry trees originating from Jeju Island is not valid. The Korea National Arboretum under the Korea Forest Service analyzed the genome of Jeju king cherry trees along with researchers from Myongji University and Gachon University, and the Jeju king cherry trees and Japanese king cherry trees are different plants that were developed separately. The results were published in the September issue of Genome Biology, an international science journal.

The self-deception of packaging cherry blossom festivals with nationalism using the theory of the tree’s Jeju origin is over. There are two alternatives. We can display excessive nationalism and abolish all cherry blossom festivals. Or we can admit that the tradition of cherry blossom festival comes from Japan and develop it creatively in a Korean way.

We need to take a second look at the spring flowers that are closely related to Korean traditions but have been outshined by cherry blossoms and develop festivals in their honor. For example, azaleas have been an inspiration for many masterpieces, from Shin Yun-bok’s painting “Yeonsodapcheong” to Kim So-wol’s poem “Azalea.” We need to at least stop the self-deception of riding the popularity of cherry blossoms and claiming it is a Korean tradition because Japanese cherry trees originate from Jeju Island.

JoongAng Ilbo, , Sept. 15-16, Page 35
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